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Our foreign aid budget, it seems, is a convenient hollow log for a government desperate to keep its chances of delivering a surplus intact but facing soaring costs from a huge surge in asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Offshore processing of asylum seekers is expensive — extraordinarily so compared to processing here in Australia. In the case of the revamped Pacific Solution, the goal is not processing of any kind but delay — long delays. This makes Australia’s current policy even more expensive.
By funding this exorbitant cost from the foreign aid budget, the government makes the nonsensical argument that looking after refugees in Australia is the same as foreign aid “providing support for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Sudan”.
Instead what it reflects is that beneficiaries of our foreign aid program have no political clout, and that unlike most areas of the budget there is little political cost to cutting programs intended to help those well below Australian standards of living. For once, Scott Morrison is correct in suggesting this is merely “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, although perhaps the names are a little inapt given what we are describing.
Labor’s asylum seeker policy has led it into some morally dubious areas. Combined with its determination to maintain a surplus, it produces outright absurd outcomes like this.
This article originally referred incorrectly to Nauru and PNG, and has been amended.